Advance planning for a lengthy tour will yield big dividends later on.
Tour time has come again! It's always exciting, slightly anxiety provoking, and busy. For most of my touring career, I've worked with artists based in Los Angeles. As of late, I've found myself branching out by touring with international artists.
I had an amazing time last year playing with French pop-star Mylène Farmer. I essentially relocated to Paris for five months and it was a great experience, both musically and culturally. I'm headed to Japan this year to tour with Japanese rock-legend Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi. Touring always requires foresight and planning, but touring outside of the U.S. requires extra logistical preparation. So for this month's column, I'm going to detail what needs to be done before it's time to go rock.
Music prep. I'm a big fan of going into rehearsals well prepared. You want to show up on day one with a solid grasp of the music. This will make rehearsals flow smoothly and will allow you and your fellow musicians to concentrate on things like gelling as a band, and developing transitions and alternate endings. Rehearsals should be about taking the music to a higher place and building a show, not learning songs from scratch.
Study both live and studio recordings, watch live videos on YouTube or DVDs, make charts if necessary, and plan out what gear and tones you will use on each song ahead of time. I always program my pedalboard while I'm learning the songs so I'll have all my tones already dialed in prior to rehearsals.
Gear prep. Making sure your gear is maintained and ready for the road is imperative. If you haven't changed your amp's tubes in ages, it's time for a visit to your local tech. I like to start each tour with fresh tubes in my amps, and I always carry a spare set of matched power tubes for both of my PT-100 heads. I can just drop in the replacement set with no biasing required, because the tubes are matched to the set in the amp. Though I run a stereo-amp rig, I'm always covered if one head malfunctions because I can go to one amp in mono.
I bring lots of accessories including strings, capos, slides, picks, batteries, straps, strap locks, truss rod wrenches, etc. I don't want to worry about finding music stores on the road, so I stock up on whatever I'll need for the entire tour.
Lists are your friends, so make lists of everything you need to keep your entire rig functioning smoothly, and do it well in advance. I also suggest labeling and numbering your road cases clearly and legibly. If a cargo company is dealing with transporting your gear, you can give them a detailed list of your cases.
Visas for you and your gear. It goes without saying that you'll definitely want to check the visa requirements for the places you'll be traveling, well in advance of your tour (six months if possible). If you are a sideman like me, managers or promoters usually handle this, but invariably, some of the burden will fall on you.
I had to submit detailed personal info to management to start the visa process for Japan, and this was done a few months ago. I eventually received an eligibility document from the Japanese government that I then had to submit to the Japanese consulate here in Los Angeles, along with my passport. A week later I went to the consulate again and got my passport back with my Japan work visa. It seems that no two countries have the same procedures for securing visas, so leave plenty of time for snags and delays. The last thing you want is to have your tour derailed due to a problem securing the proper documents and/or work visas.
Your gear will need a visa too. This is also something usually handled by managers or promoters, but when gear moves from country to country, a carnet will be needed. It's a list of all the equipment that is being shipped, and is essentially like a passport for your gear. Countries want to know the models, serial numbers, and values of the equipment you bring in and out. So make a detailed list of all of your gear—including case numbers and the aforementioned information for each piece of gear—and submit it well in advance to management.
It's the little things. Want to make a good first impression when touring in a foreign land? Do some research on the customs and language before you go. While the French have a reputation for being snooty and rude toward foreigners, I found just the opposite to be true. I spent time learning some simple French phrases before traveling there and they were incredibly gracious and accommodating towards me. When people sense you have put in an effort to fit in and absorb some of their culture, they really appreciate it.
Next month, I'll be reporting from Tokyo. Until then, enjoy your summer and I wish you good tone!